If, as is strongly predicted, the right to abortion in the US will be removed, the implications go far beyond the issue of pregnancy termination and could have a disastrous impact on LGBTQ+ rights.
The leaked 98-page opinion from the US Supreme Court – if implemented – will rescind the 1973 ruling made in Roe v. Wade, which effectively removed the right of individual states to make their own abortion laws and defined a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy as a matter of individual liberty, protected under the US constitution’s 14th Amendment.
None of your business
Let us not dig too deeply into the rights and wrongs of abortion here; clearly, women have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies. And if you’re against abortion, that’s fair enough: nobody’s making it compulsory, and if you become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or whether you’ve been told that your unborn foetus has abnormalities so severe that it will likely die in utero, and under any of these circumstances you still wish to go ahead, fill your boots. But what other women, with different beliefs, choose to do in a similar situation is really none of your business.
Once the Supreme Court’s opinion becomes a ruling, the 22 states where abortion bans still exist but which have been been in abeyance since the 1973 ruling, will find that, overnight, their anti-abortion legislation regains supremacy. And, although states cannot yet ban terminations pending any official ruling, only yesterday Oklahoma reduced its limit on terminations to six weeks, so early in the gestation period that many women don’t even know they’re pregnant and those that do (and many could be young, vulnerable, victims of horrific violence and so on) need time to consider their situation and make a decision that is right for them. In the vast majority of cases, a six-week limit is a de facto ban.
But what are the implications for LGBTQ+ people? First off, we need to look at abortion as a consequence of rape. According to this 2019 study, lesbians and bisexual women in the US are more likely to be raped than their heterosexual counterparts: overall, 63 per cent of bisexual, 49 per cent of lesbian, and 35 per cent of heterosexual women reported experiencing rape in their lifetime. Some academics suggest that the increased incidence among lesbians and bisexual women is the result of the practice of “corrective rape”, where the rapist will penetrate and ejaculate inside his lesbian victim in an effort to turn her straight.
Many of these lesbians and bisexual women will become pregnant, and it is beyond inhumane that they should be denied access to a termination.
Secondly, history tells us that the diminution of rights does not usually start and stop with a single piece of legislation, and many LGBTQ-rights activists in the US have expressed their concern for the future of equal marriage, which was legalised in 2015 in the same way as abortion was in 1973, that is by invoking the right to liberty enshrined in the 14th Amendment rather than Congress passing a specific law.
This is not scaremongering: individual states have already enacted anti-LGBTQ legislation, chiefly (but not exclusively) surrounding teaching children that non-heterosexual relationships exist and banning schools from being able to discuss such issues with students who may be confused about their own sexuality or gender identity. Mississippi continues to outlaw “sodomy” as an “abominable crime against nature”, while permitting the purchase and carrying of a handgun without the need for a permit or background check. In Texas, a group called Right to Life has already asked the Supreme Court to look at same-sex marriage and sodomy legislation and while there is not yet any suggestion that the Court will have its agenda set by a group of right-wing religious zealots, the push towards the restriction of such rights is concerning.
Concern that Roe v. Wade may be just the start of a rollback of progressive rights for Americans has been echoed by President Biden, who told reporters that “a whole range of rights” are in question, heralding “a fundamental shift in American jurisprudence”.